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Draft King Analysis

January 14, 2011
Lou Pickney,

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I'm waiting until the early entry deadline ends tomorrow (1/15) to redo my 2011 NFL Mock Draft. For the most part we know who's in and who's out, though players can change their mind (unless they've signed with an agent) through Tuesday. So we'll see if there are any 11th hour changes of heart, but for the most part the vast majority of the high-profile players eligible for early entry into the NFL have already made their decision known.

Nick Fairley
Nick Fairley is a top-tier NFL prospect. (Icon SMI)
The Carolina Panthers replaced John Fox at head coach with Ron Rivera, who spent the past two seasons as the defensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers. He was an interesting choice relative to the draft given his background: he mostly executed 4-3 defenses before taking the DC reigns in San Diego, where he ran the incumbent 3-4 defense there with great success. There was curiosity about what scheme he would run in Carolina, but he addressed that at his initial press conference with the Panthers, saying that the Panthers will keep its 4-3 defense for the 2011 season.

Rivera cited the team already being built for a 4-3 scheme as part of his decision to maintain it in Carolina, and the impact this will have on the draft is not a minor one. Carolina staying with the 4-3 benefits the top two defensive prospects, Auburn DT Nick Fairley (who announced today that he's leaving school early for the NFL) and Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers (who made a similar announcement on January 5).

In a 3-4, Fairley would have to shift over to play defensive end, reducing his value considerably since his great value as a 4-3 DT is his ability (in a Warren Sapp kind of way) to penetrate the backfield and tackle whoever has the ball. Much like Albert Haynesworth's value fell significantly when the Washington Redskins changed from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense for 2010, Fairley's value in a 3-4 set would be considerably less.

In the case of Bowers the difference isn't so significant, though he is more valuable as an elite 4-3 DE prospect than he would be as a 3-4 OLB, which is where he'd be positioned if he ends up with a 3-4 team. But while the difference is perhaps milder, it isn't insignificant since the Panthers in a 4-3 drafting a DE #1 overall is logical whereas in a 3-4 drafting an OLB who didn't play OLB in college is a big risk.

I've been on the Bowers bandwagon for some time: he is a skiller player who was one of the most coveted recruits in 2008 coming out of high school. ESPN had Bowers at #1, ahead of Julio Jones and Terrelle Pryor and Patrick Peterson, among other strong prospects in the top ten. And, while he didn't have huge output in his first two years at Clemson, Bowers came alive in 2010: 67 tackles, 16 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception.

It's my opinion at this point that Bowers is the most likely player to go in the #1 spot, but it could end up being Fairley and it wouldn't surprise me. It's my belief that one of those two players will go #1 overall.


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